One night six years ago, on a quiet side street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I came across a photo album that had been put out with the trash. I lived around the corner, and I was walking home when I saw it sitting beneath a streetlamp on Lincoln Place.
It looked handmade, with a wooden cover bound with a shoelace. But it had been tied up with twine, like a bunch of old newspapers, and left atop a pile of recycling.
After hesitating a moment, I picked it up and took it home.The pages were fragile, and they cracked when I turned them, as if the album hadn’t been opened in a long time, but the photos were perfectly preserved. They seemed to chronicle the life of a black couple at midcentury: a beautiful woman with a big smile and a man who looked serious, or was maybe just camera-shy, and had served in World War II.
As I turned the pages, the scenery changed from country picnics to city streets and crowded dance halls in what appeared to be Harlem, and the couple went from youth to middle age. Looking at the album, I was struck by how joyful the photos were — and by the fact that as fabled as this era was, I had never seen a black family’s own account of that time.